Lists of the worst album covers ever have been around forever, but often it's the images that spread—not the stories behind the albums. Let's fix that.
Nearly as long as there has been the internet, there have been lists of terrible album covers—many of which predate the internet and are looked at using modern standards for humor and kitsch. But the problem with these images is that there's often no story behind them, because they're often not shared with any information to speak of. They're historic memes, but they never seem to have any attached history. You can listen to some of the music on these albums here, but today we're gonna dive into some of the most infamous album covers ever … and talk about the fact that this music was actually created by human beings.
All his friends were dead, but he made many more.
Freddie Gage's claim to fame among most internet users is the album cover for the audio version of his book All My Friends Are Dead, which is understandably a little morose and a bit on-the-nose for most people. But Gage, nonetheless, had a career as a preacher that lasted decades, one predicated on the early lessons he learned as a former gang member in the Houston area.
"He was blunt," fellow Rev. John Bisagno told The Houston Chronicle after Gage's death last year. "He didn't put things in theological terms but in street language that they all could really understand. He didn't pull any punches. Second only to Billy Graham, Freddie Gage was undoubtedly the most successful evangelist of the '50s, '60s and '70s."
The best request one could make.
Ken Snyder may perhaps have the most famous face of all the bad album covers—and it's arguable that Snyder's cover isn't so much "bad" as "cheesy in the best way possible." The album, a gospel-style record released in 1976, came about as part of Snyder's career as a preacher, which still remains active today in an Iowa church. Snyder's album was featured on The Ellen Show back in 2012, which led him to do an interview with a local radio station. Listen over this way.
Putting things into perspective.
The 1983 album Joyce, much like Ken, is also something of an enigma on the odd album cover front. And much like Snyder, Joyce came to music from her religious background.
But based on this anonymous comment sent by her niece to a retro-culture site in 2010, the Texas-based preacher's wife doesn't really have much of a desire to let the album define her.
Still a turntable slave after all these years.
Devastatin' Dave, the Turntable Slave became infamous in recent years due to his Electric Boogaloo-esque album cover for his 12" single "Zip Zap Rap," a 1986 song that certainly is very much of its time. The funk-tinged hip-hopper, born David Cary, is still active in music to this day—you can find his tunes over at Reverb Nation and follow him on Twitter here.
The Ricky Martin that wasn't.
The leg-stretching album cover for Tino's 1983 single "Por Primera Vez" ("For the First Time") wasn't the first time Tino had been featured on the cover of an album. In fact, it was the 16-year-old Spaniard's first step away from the kid-focused pop that had previously defined his career.
Menudo-style success wasn't to be, however. Tino, once a member of the kid's group Parchís, failed to gain any serious momentum from the song, and soon he joined the military and left behind his music career.Today, he lives a mostly normal life in Barcelona, outside of a car crash in the late '80s that took his left arm.
Yes, he's wearing a bodysuit.
Slim Goodbody's schtick seems quite awkward in the context of this oddball record cover, but he's actually been doing this schtick for longer than a bunch of you have been alive.
Since 1975, Goodbody—birth name John Burstein—has been wearing an anatomically-accurate onesie as a way to help teach the public (particularly children) about health issues. The painted suits, which cost roughly $4,000 each to produce, have changed over the years, but the guy wearing them hasn't too much.
“I’m in good shape. I love the work I do,” Burstein told the Associated Press in 2005. “As long as I keep evolving, keep changing and growing, I won’t stop.”
A man who knows how to wear a pair of jeans.
Unlike most people with a weird album cover in their past, Dr. Gary Solomon doesn't hide it—in fact, he threw it on his website, where you can listen to the whole thing.
Today, Solomon has a more interesting career than "man who knows how to hold his hips in a dramatic way": he's a therapist whose main focus of expertise involves recommending people watch movies to deal with the difficult issues they're facing. Solomon has written three books on the concept of Cinematherapy.
Despite my cool hat, I am still just a dude on a rat.
Say what you will about Swamp Dogg, but he knows how to make an impression. The Virginia-born psychedelic soulster has been on a musical tear for five decades now, and while he hasn't reached the success of his namesake Snoop Dogg, he has larger musical body of work than all of the other artists in this newsletter combined.
Dogg, born Jerry Williams, Jr., has even written some hit pop songs in his day—most notably "She's All I've Got," which has been covered by many artists. But despite his weird offbeat brushes with his success, he embraces his past—rats and all.
“I have two things that I’m proud of, that maybe I shouldn’t be proud of,” he told Los Angeles magazine. “One of them is making Richard Nixon’s ‘enemies list’ and the other is having my Rat On! album called the worst album cover in the world. That has kept me alive!”
The thing about worst album covers lists is that they're, quite often, cheap content fillers that allow for a nice amount of long-tail traffic. All they require are a couple of hours, an intern to find the images, and a writer to make the same modestly funny jokes that you've already heard about these records elsewhere.
(The exception is this list by former Pitchfork writer Brent DiCrescenzo, which appears to have been heavily researched.)
As I was researching this—as I don't have an intern—I found myself a little drawn to the fact that these people have been kind of crapped on, in many cases for no good reason other than changing tastes.
Some of these people are and were community pillars; others just had a weak moment where a music career seemed like a potential path. Beyond the people that have learned to embrace them, they're like yearbook photos that will never go away.
Won't someone please think of the adults?